Most people don’t realize that Italy has some of the oldest wine-producing regions in the world, and is the world’s largest wine producer by volume. Annually, Italian winemakers produce a wide variety of wines roughly totaling one-third of the global wine production; and Montepulciano d’Abruzzo may just be a hidden gem you’ve never heard of!
Like the French wine appellation system, the better Italian wines are also classified by the area where they are grown and bear either the DOC designation, which stands for Denominazione di Origine Controllata (Controlled Designation of Origin); or the DOCG designation meaning Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (Controlled and Guaranteed Designation of Origin). It’s important to understand that these designations only indicate:
- The region where the grapes are grown and the wine is produced
- The wine is from a geographical sub-region for additional designations such as Classico for Chianti wines
- The wine meets the minimal aging standards for additional designations such as Riserva or Vecchio.
Thus, these designations have minimal bearing on the actual quality of the wine, which can vary from vintage to vintage and by producer for many different reasons. That said, modern wine producing methods are nevertheless allowing for very consistent quality.
All Italian regions produce very good quality DOC and DOCG wines, and one that most people, both Italian and non-Italian, recognize is Chianti; a red wine that comes from the Tuscany region and is made from the Sangiovese wine grape. Another is Pino Grigio, a white wine from the Trentino-Alto Adige region and made from the grape of the same name. Both these wines are easily found and enjoyed outside of Italy.
I come from the region of Abruzzo, which is considered part of Southern Italy and is located on the Adriatic coast. Abruzzo also produces wonderful DOC and DOCG wines, though most people unfamiliar with the region do not usually know of them. Two of the most popular DOC wines from Abruzzo are the white Trebbiano d’Abruzzo and the red Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is made from the Montepulciano wine grape which is indigenous to the Abruzzo region. This is not to be confused with Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, which is made from the Sangiovese wine grape, the same grape as Chianti, and which is named after and produced in Montepulciano, a Renaissance hill town in southern Tuscany.
Abruzzo is one of Italy’s most mountainous regions and more than 65% of all Abruzzo is considered mountainous terrain with the Apennine peaks reaching over 9,000 feet above sea level. The DOC region for Montepulciano d’Abruzzo covers most of the region between the Apennine foothills down to a few miles inland from the Adriatic coast. The hillside vineyards are planted on calcareous clay soil, benefit from substantial sunshine and warm temperatures and are ventilated by cool, dry breezes coming off the Adriatic
Under Italian DOC wine laws, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo must be composed of a minimum of 85% Montepulciano wine grapes, may also include up to 15% of Sangiovese wine grapes; and must be aged for a minimum of 5 months prior to release. Montepulciano d’Abruzzo may also be labeled as “Vecchio” and therefore must be aged for an additional two years in wood barrels to achieve this designation. There is also a “Riserva” designation requiring three years total aging with at least six months in oak barrels. Finally, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wines must have a minimum alcohol level of at least 12%.
In addition to the Montepulciano d’Abruzzo DOC wines are the DOCG Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane, Teramo Hills, wines. To gain this designation the wine must be produced from Montepulciano grapes grown in the vineyards of the Province of Teramo and 30 surrounding communes. Furthermore, the regulations for DOCG Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane are a bit more stringent as the wine needs to be made from a minimum of 90% Montepulciano grapes and a no more than 10% Sangiovese grapes. Wines designated Montepulciano d’Abruzzo Colline Teramane are often regarded as especially fine representatives of Abruzzo’s wines.
Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is typically styled as a full-bodied robust red wine with typical characteristics that include a deep ruby-red color, rich body and an earthy, almost “rustic” quality with the aromatic bouquet of the primary grape and dark fruits such as blackberry. There is also a distinct note of spiciness and, as often found in full-bodied reds, notes of leather and tar. A well-crafted Montepulciano is not necessarily expensive and is generally considered one of the best wine value-buys available. Simpler, less expensive Montepulciani are made for early drinking and thus have relatively low tannin levels and low levels of acidity, especially for an Italian red. The bigger Montepulciani can gracefully bottle-age to a pleasant maturity for a decade or two.
There is also a DOC rosé style of Montepulciano d’Abruzzo labeled as Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo. Cerasuolo roughly translates as “cherry-red” and refers to the reddish color the wine obtains even with very brief contact with the highly pigmented skins of the Montepulciano grape. Cerasuolo tends to be medium-bodied and a bit hearty for an Italian rosé, with aromas of dried cherries, orange peel, and strawberry with notes of cinnamon.
Recently, my cousin Luca and his lovely wife Rene visited us from Philadelphia, and to accompany our dinner we opened a couple of bottles of 2011 Il Vino Dal Tralcetto Montepulciano d’Abruzzo produced by Cantina Zaccagnini. Luca first introduced us to Cantina Zaccagnini’s Montepulciano a couple of years ago and it has since become one of our favorite Montepulciani.
Dinner included cold antipasti of various marinated and cured olives, breaded and fried eggplant marinated in Balsamic vinegar, marinated artichoke hearts, roasted peppers and garlic in olive oil, imported sopressata and prosciutto, fresh mozzarella, and a “domestic Parmigiano” made from goat’s milk. We also had a hot antipasto of my wife Judy’s wonderful stuffed mushrooms. The antipasti were accompanied by delicious rosemary “schiacciata”, flat bread similar to focaccia. The antipasti were all carefully and lovingly arranged by my daughter Stephanie who is in the food service industry as a Senior Manager with The Cheesecake Factory, and who really knows how to put together a beautiful food presentation.
My mother’s wonderful homemade ravioli stuffed with ricotta, mozzarella, Italian sausage and parsley followed the antipasti, along with Judy’s really delicious, fork tender braciole rolled with breadcrumbs, sautéed onions and garlic, Parmigiano and Provolone cheeses, prosciutto and pignoli nuts. This was accompanied by a fresh garden salad as a contorno. The Cantina Zaccagnini Il Vino Dal Tralcetto Montepulciano d’Abruzzo was a perfect wine pairing for this meal.
If you haven’t yet tried Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, definitely consider buying a bottle or two (or more) of Cantina Zaccagnini’s Il Vino Dal Tralcetto Montepulciano d’Abruzzo for your next Italian meal or holiday. The vintages are consistently rated by various experts in the high 80’s to low 90’s, indicating very good quality and exceptional value considering you can buy it for less than $20. If your favorite wine store doesn’t carry Cantina Zaccagnini wines, you can conveniently order on-line from Wine.Com. If the 2011 Il Vino Dal Tralcetto Montepulciano d’Abruzzo is sold out, go for any vintage available, I promise you won’t be disappointed.